Archive for the ‘Homeschooling’ Category

A New Adventure in Raising a Service Dog


Growing quickly

We’ve embarked on a new adventure somewhat by happenstance.  For awhile I have been considering a service dog for Cisco.  I had seen the use of service dogs for special needs kids here and there and I really liked the idea of the companionship and assistance of a dog in our life especially the more I’ve read about it.  Cisco loves animals.  He loves to hang with our kitties, watch the guinea pigs and ride horses for hippotherapy.  He recently started working with a therapy dog while doing PT and it has been a good motivator.

The wait for a trained service dog is on the order of two years.  I wasn’t feeling we were quite ready but almost ready to start the application process given the wait time.  The program that we were considering was near by in Ohio and had no waitlist or age requirement, you just had to help raise fund for the organization before being assigned a dog for training.  They sounded like a committed organization doing amazing work to provide for special needs kids but I had some reservations.  The dogs are raised in a large kennel facility.  They do spend time away spending a semester with a college student socializing as a puppy and in basic training at a prison but the rest of there 18 months to two years of training seemed to be at this facility.  I was a bit uncertain about this and so was my Dad.  My Dad felt the best results would be from getting a puppy but I didn’t see how I could handle raising a puppy right now and the success rates of getting a fully trained service dog after raising a puppy reported via facilities and trainers is like 20% especially among dogs not bred for service work.  It is demanding work.

I was on the verge of going ahead and applying for a dog when, during a phone conversation, my dad casually mentions he knew of a litter of Great Pyrenees Anatolian Shepard mixes looking for a home.  He regailed me with the stories of the Great Pyrenees he had before I was born (that had my same name, incidentally) and how he thought a Great Pyrenees would be a great fit for us. I said he could go ahead and investigate the puppy situation.  Before I knew it Grampa and his partner were getting us a girl puppy to train to be Cisco’s mobility and multi-purpose service dog.  Grampa’s partner, LL, felt so committed and excited to help that she insisted on helping Grampa raise the puppy the first 6 months taking care of the puppy’s bills and taking her to Puppy Kinder so she would come to us potty trained, past needle sharp teeth and with a few commands behind her belt.  They made sure I was committed but how could I pass up this opportunity.  Admittedly, this is our experiment.  Great Pyrenees and Anatolian aren’t often used for service dog work but Great Pyrenees are a favorite among therapy dogs.

The new dog’s name is Nana.  This was suggested by LL because it is the dogs name in Peter Pan and we agreed to it as a family because Cisco liked it and could say it.  She is over 9 weeks old and has been living with Grampa and ML for two weeks.  We are assured she is brilliant, doing great in potty training, gets plenty of socialization and is making great progress with leash walking.  Her weak point at the moment seems to be mouthing people and pulling on clothes.  The handler of Cisco’s therapy dog suggested using Bitter Apple spray directly in her mouth when she does it as this cannot be tolorated in a service dog.  We are hoping that will work.  Service dogs must be committed to their charge, taking direction, not barking unless to alert to his charges urgent needs and staying calm and unobtrusive in public.

The plan is for Grampa and LL to so graciously drive half way across the nation to bring Nana to us this summer as long as Nana continues to prove she is a good service dog candidate and she tests negative for hip displasia at 6 months old whe we can check for it.

Wish us all the best on this adventure.  We are causiously excited.  Thank you Grampa and LL!

Nana & the Baby miniPig

Nana Playing with her MiniPig Cousin

Big Brothers Progression (age 8-9)


LANGUAGE ARTS – Brave Writer’s “A Quiver of Arrows” – We read/listened to and did copywork, spelling and grammar using these books:

Sarah, Plain and Tall
The Trumpet of the Swan
The Mouse and the Motorcycle
Secret of the Andes
The Wheel on the School
Cricket in Times Square

CURSIVE – “Handwriting Without Tears.” Made it through about 1/3 of the book and will continue this coming year.

HISTORY – “History Odyssey Modern Times.” Finished about 1/2 the curriculum then started just listening to the corresponding SOTW chapters late sping. We plan to finish all SOTW chapters by the end of the summer.

SCIENCE – “Sassafras Science Adventures: Anatomy.” This curriculum was designed to be used over a single semester. We finished all but the last two chapters of activities and finished the book this summer.

MATH – “Math on the Level” continues and remains a good resource but we took a break from it in the spring in favor of Khan Academy. Big Brother really enjoyed the format and rewards.

ART – Big Brother did this at co-op and we spend December working on making candles for the grandparents plus other arts and crafts related to anatomy and modern times.

PE – Tae Kwon Do – Big Brother is now a Green Strip belt

MUSIC – Private violin with group classes. The end of the year concert was amazing. The teacher rented the Masonic Temple Theater for the Concert. Big Brother graduated Suzuki Book 2 and played with the other three graduates then that evening the teachers did a wonderful concert. The two main teachers played in a quartet, the fiddle teacher played a fiddle set and then the Dueling Fiddlers played (Russel is one of the teachers in our studio) with the kids accompanying the song “Gael” (known from “Last of the Mohicans”).

2014-15 “Report Card”


The Boy with Many Belts

So, did we do all we planned this past year? No, of course not. Do you ever remember finishing the textbook you were given growing up?

We had fun at home learning about our bodies, learning about the modern world, doing math with khan academy, reading great books, watching documentaries, watching good movies, playing music, BBQ with dad, building LEGOs, skying with friends while playing minecraft, helping in the garden, playing board games, learning how to do laundry and mowing the lawn.

We had some great experiences away from home including 4-H hikes, a visit to Williamsburg, a trip to Texas, a trip to New England, camping, going to the hippotherapy “Ranch”, spending time together, spending time with friends, speech therapy, weekly Co-op, enjoying our water park membership, visiting the new Children’s Science Center, attending Theater in the Woods, Organizing/Attending the Homeschool Conference, and playing/collecting pokemon.

Big Brother’s Homeschool Status

Super Hero Peg People

Making Super Hero Peg People

I just realized I never really gave an idea of what “school” looked like for Big Brother this year. As usual, we have had ebbs and flows. A major challenge to getting Big Brother’s schooling done beyond having a little brother was Mom’s choice to take on Chairing our States Inclusive Homeschool Conference. It was a busy summer selecting a keynote and featured speaker, a busy holiday season preparing the conference schedule and starting registration and then increased dedication to the conference until it occurred in late March to the point of it being a full time job and having to put homeschooling virtually on hold. It was a very rewarding experience and I feel so good that I did my part to make sure this amazing gem of a Homeschool Conference continues in my state for all homeschooling families. We had around 900 attendees. All that said, I’ve had to pass the baton because it was just too distracting from my first job of caring for and schooling my boys especially as a special needs mom.

Big Brothers Subjects (age 8-9):

LANGUAGE ARTS – Brave Writer’s “A Quiver of Arrows” – Wonderful gentle Language Arts program that I would say is rather Charlotte Masony. It has exposed us to some great literature that we’ve listened to via books on tape and covered handwriting, grammar and spelling. This is Big Brother’s subject he finds most challenging yet he has been very happy with this gentle approach. I hope to get at least two more books in before next “school year.” Each book is covered over four weeks.

CURSIVE – “Handwriting Without Tears.” Big Brother wanted to learn cursive and he really enjoys this program. I wish I would have used it for printing. Great systematic and gentle program. I have also found that cursive comes easier to my son then print and I really do feel cursive is important to learn. It is used more frequently in other countries and lots of adults still use it (my writing in cursive is the reason Big Brother wanted to learn to be able to read what I write). It is also good for fine motor practice. It actually bothers me that cursive is not taught in many schools now.

HISTORY – “History Odyssey Modern Times.” Big Brother wanted to continue “Story of the World” which can be done with the History Odyssey level 1 Curriculums and I wanted to switch things up. I was getting bored with the “Story of the World” Activity Guides and liked the idea of a curriculum that is written to the child to start transitioning to him taking more ownership of his work. He loved the idea of being completely in charge of getting his work done but the reality was that it was too much for him to do it completely. I helped a lot but it has helped him go in that direction. He really has enjoyed this curriculum. His only complaint when we were reassessing over the holidays was that it required too much writing so we reduced the writing in the new year. I hope to finish a few more sections but don’t expect to complete the curriculum before summer. When summer starts we will just listen to the “Story of the World” chapters we have left like we did last year. I find that works well. Gets the closure I like but casually.

At our Homeschool Co-op, Big Brother attended a winter class on the Alaskan Dog Sled Race, Iditerod. History in the making.

A highlight in History experiences was the Homeschool Medieval day we attended in the Fall that included historical interpreters, print making and storytelling by Big Brother’s favorite storyteller, Jim Weiss (his audio stories are a major supplement to our history lessons).

SCIENCE – “Sassafras Science Adventures: Anatomy.” Big Brother really likes the Sassafras Science Adventures. We read the first one on Zoology this past summer and then adopted the full curriculum for the school year for Anatomy. He has enjoyed the added curriculum with activities (he loves to do projects and activities) and continues to learn about the twins adventures. The coolest project has been the life sized tracing of his body we have on the wall that he has added parts to as we cover new parts. I do feel like the story has gotten too drawn out going at the pace of doing the curriculum as well as the breaks we’ve had to take as I worked on the conference. I’m considering reading the next book on Botany this summer and then doing the curriculum in the fall after we read the whole book. We are still working on Anatomy.

In addition to our at home science, Big Brother has done science at co-op each semester. It is one of his favorite subjects. In the fall, I taught a Vex IQ Robotics class Big Brother attended. Then, this winter and spring, I started an elementary chemistry series using “REAL Science Odyssey: Chemistry Level 1” that Big Brother has been attending. In the fall, he attended a Scientific Method Class. In the winter, he also attended a LEGO class (LEGO’s and Pokemon are his favorite past time).

MATH – “Math on the Level” continues and remains a good choice. We have gone a little more casual with the five a days and have incorporated a game/activity day once a week. Things were getting a bit tedious so adding an official math fun day has been a great addition to maintain enthusiasm in my math loving boy.

ART – Big Brother’s Homeschool Co-op’s “Famous Artists” Class covered art for the fall along with crafting gifts over the holidays (hand dipped beeswax candles) and art related activities for History. We will be starting the spring semester next week and Big Brother plans to do a clay molding class taught by one of his friends teen brothers.

PE – Tae Kwon Do with dad continues. They attend twice a week. This spring semester will also include a PE class at our Co-op.

MUSIC – Private violin instruction continues. Big Brother switched back to Suzuki Violin classes that include group classes. A more affordable suzuki studio then his original studio and a little more laid back while still focusing on quality playing and ear training. A great balance and Big Brother is doing some fun stuff including group fiddle and improv. He happily played Brahms’ Waltz at the Conference Talent Show with his dad accompanying on guitar.

The past two weeks Big Brother has been completing the CAT test for Grade 3. It went well and he actually looks forward to it. Next week between enjoying spring time weather and planting, I hope to get back on track to get some school work done. While in someways I feel like we have catching up to do, I also look at Big Brother and realize that he has come such a long way and is doing well.


My Hydrogen Atom

Cisco’s Preschool


We are SamuraiWhile Cisco qualifies for public preschool, this summer I decided I know him best and can provide the best educational, therapeutic and loving environment for him. We went on a tour of the preschool before deciding. It was overcrowded and overstimulation for me much less a toddler with visual impairment. It also was not set up at all for a child to be in a walker or belly crawling. I also wanted to focus my energies on a medicaid waiver to pay for his many expenses and get an attendant to help a couple times a week while I homeschool his brother (we got the Virginia EDCD Medicaid waiver based on his disability).

We have been doing “preschool” focused on motor skills and visual acuity. We have been doing fingerplays from Baby’s First Book by Clare Beaton and Tessa Strickland and activities from Everyday Activities to Promote Visual Efficiency: A Handbook for Working with Young Children with Visual Impairments… by Ellen Trief and Rona Shaw. He has also continued weekly speech and sign language, we did OT weekly through October and are back to bimonthly PT with the county early intervention program that is now free thanks to medicaid.

Goodbye Summer


I’d like to reflect on this summer as it comes to a close. We had a very nice summer. We started out with a fairly structured school schedule that just lasted a few weeks then changed gears. We read “Harry Potter 2”, “The Magic Thief: Found”, “The Sassafras Science Adventures: Zoology” and finished “Story of the World 3”. Big Brother enjoyed the Sassafras Twins so much we decided to discontinue “Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding” as our home science spine in favor of “The Sassafras Science Adventures: Anatomy” with the Activity Guide and SCIDAT Logbook.

Highlights included ending the spring/starting summer by meeting up with Grandpa in Tennessee, a visit from Abuelita (my mom) and camping with friends twice at a lake in West Virginia. Big Brother attempted a sleepover with a couple friends that just turned into a dinner and playdate in the treehouse but they had lots of fun. We enjoyed a couple evenings with old friends. Mommy pumped milk for a friends newborn adopted son (I was so happy to give this gift). I was excited to have two work weeks at home and got the school stuff, the kitchen and the studio organized but still have more to do. I enjoyed tending our new large veggie garden with Cisco at my side most of the time eating much and clover. The boys also kept busy with therapies. Big Brother did speech therapy to end with a perfect ‘r’ and improved ‘th’ but we are now taking a break because the spacer in his mouth is interfering with his ‘s’ and ‘z’ so we have to wait until it is removed to continue. Cisco worked on speech and occupational therapy and made great strides with each. His communication continues to improve and he loves brush therapy. As the summer was coming to a close, we finally had made it to the waterpark with friends (we tried all summer and there were very few dry hot days to go then the two times we had tried Cisco got sick to the stomach).

We ended this Labor Day weekend smoking meat, getting a new to us Weber grill , pulling weeds, swimming in our 8′ pool one last time, watching movies and just enjoying family time before our hectic “school” schedule starts up.

Sample Summer Homeschool Schedule


Big Brother pretending to be the blood pumping through the “human heart” he made two weeks ago while we were learning about muscles.

I will say, last week was what I will call a highly productive summer homeschool week. This week we are busy with social activities and keeping me sane while Dad is out of town so things like copywork will get thrown to the side. For the summer I have some busy social weeks planned and also weeks we block for “vacation” at home with few other commitments to enjoy some lazy summer experiences or for mom to do some projects like organizing our homeschool shelves or installing a backsplash in the kitchen.

– independent reading (mostly “pokemon” graphic novels)
– copywork from the copywork jar (sentence with Osterich fact)
– listen to SOTW3 Ch. 16
– clean house
– violin private lesson
– read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”
– build VEX IQ robot
– create and build Nepoleonic Wars mini figs
– TV time: Pokemon
– have sorbet at ice cream parlor to raise money for multiple sclerosis
– play piano
– sing with Dad

Tuesday – Big Brother declared this “Reading Day”
– independent reading (mostly “pokemon” graphic novels)
– copywork from the copywork jar (joke)
– listen to SOTW3 Ch.17
– Primary Language Lesson
– violin practice
– read “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”
– read about muscles and bones (library books)
– build VEX IQ robot
– work on Nepoleon’s War of Trafalgar war scene with LEGOS
– TV time: Pokemon
– go to TKD with Dad

– independent reading (mostly “pokemon” graphic novels)
– copywork from the copywork jar (joke)
– listen to SOTW3
– violin practice
– read “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”
– read about muscles and bones (library books)
– build VEX IQ robot
– TV time: Pokemon
– library
– have dinner at “Elevation Burger”

– speech therapy for both boys
– Occupational therapy for Cisco
– independent reading (mostly “pokemon” graphic novels)
– listen to SOTW3
– Primary Language Lesson
– violin practice
– read “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”
– visit farmers market
– TV time: Pokemon
– go to TKD with Dad

– independent reading (mostly “pokemon” graphic novels)
– violin practice
– go to Air & Space Museum for Spy activity with friends
– finish “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”

– Participate in Cisco’s parent/child demo music class
– Master class in violin from Russel Falstad of the “Dueling Fiddlers”
– swim birthday party for neighbor
– help landscaper finish carnivorous plant bog
– watch “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”
– help dad put fabric roof on treehouse
– independent reading (mostly “pokemon” graphic novels)
– violin practice
– watch “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”

Big Brother’s School


It is that time of year again, time to assess what did and didn’t work this last school year as we decide what to do with our year ahead. According to our yearly proof of progress, which we do by a CAT test, Big Brother just completed 2nd grade. At our house, however, we give little thought to grade and recognize that Big Brother’s capabilities are not all the same grade level. He remains a math/science type and while he loves to read, the language arts aren’t his strong suit. I can relate. So, he has taken lots of science classes this year and we do just enough language arts to get by.

I have to say, once again, we started the fall staying very busy and scheduled more like a classical homeschool then by spring the beautiful weather and planting time lead to an unschool that involved building a fence, planting a garden and building a treehouse. We are now back to one of my favorite times of the year, summer after the 4th of July. This sweet place I look forward to after our regular “school” commitments and Violin Camp are over. We are reading lots and limiting our commitments. We are also playing catch up on things we didn’t complete over the “school year” such as our third year with “Story of the World” that we didn’t even get half way through and Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding that took a back seat to all the science classes Big Brother has been taking.

Did I mention, our favorite part of this past “school” year was our new Friday co-op. I’ve been teaching (this last semester on the Biome’s of the Earth) and Big Brother has been taking classes. Cisco has joined us and really enjoyed all the toddler toys in the nursery in the church our co-op meets.

Our big fail for this past school year was leaving our wonderful Suzuki Violin teacher for a traditional violin teacher. It was something we had to do not only financially but I also felt we were in a place we needed to re-prioritize as Big Brother gets older and his interests diversify. I clearly acted too hasty in the selection of a new teacher as I was burnt out with all the Suzuki method required of me as a parent. The teacher, however, did not pay attention to detail. I didn’t realize the extent of the issue until I attended our end of the year recital after being with her 5 months. The kids were all playing there newest pieces depending on the music, loosing there places and over all not doing well. She did little to prepare Big Brother and accompanied him for the first time the lessons right before the recital. It was not the way to teach a child not to be nervous in front of an audience. Mommy fail. We have now gone back to Suzuki and are so excited about our new teacher that not only teaches the traditional Suzuki method but also has opportunities to learn fiddle and rock styles on the violin from other experts.  I’m hoping it is the balance we seek.

For our core subjects, we also continued with Primary Language Lessons (PLL) and Math on the Level (MOTL). I plan to continue with both thos coming year but change things up a little. I’d like to add some ideas I learned from the Brave Writer creator at the VaHomeschool Fair in March and get more consistent with copywork but find interesting and fun copywork to do. I’d also like to find more time to do activities from the MOTL activity book which I failed to do this year.

Not sure if I’ll really add much new in the fall but tweak what we have to increase our enthusiasm and keep it exciting. I do hope to do better in creating a learning space for both the boys that gives them a rich learning environment that they guide.

Sewing a army knife holder for grampa.

Violin Book 1 Graduate


Another big accomplishment at the end of the year was that after 4 years of study, Big Brother graduated Book 1 of Suzuki Violin. He had to graduate each piece at a Book 2 level and he did it beautifully and ended it with a great group concert with his studio. I really feel he has a great foundation now. It was, however, bittersweet. For predominately financial reasons but also for changing goals we have had to switch to a studio that is more conventional. We miss our old teacher that was the example of every good Suzuki teacher and group classes (well, brother does but I’m glad to get my Saturdays back) but we have found another great teacher for different reasons that seems to be a better fit right now.

Big Brother is now studying Suzuki Book 2 (he insisted on continuing with the his beloved Suzuki songs), note reading and fiddling. Overall we are operating at a less intense pace that is resulting in less stressful practice sessions and more ownership by Big Brother. Violin had become a point of contention even though Big Brother insisted on continuing violin. We recently enjoyed a fiddle session with the new studio followed by observing a group of more advance students work on a Bach piece. Even dad participated. It was great fun. I’m feeling more balanced and hope it continues to be a good trade for Big Brother.

A Week in the Life of a Homeschooler


Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

I have gotten a little more flexible on the days of the weeks we do things so I’ll start with our weekly assignments this past week:
1. Daily Math 5-a-day problems to practice
2.  Introduce Division in Math (although he know division verbally)
3.  Complete  Primary Language Lessons 24 & 25
4.  Practice writing by writing names for envelopes we are sending to family
5.  Practice reading in everyday life
6.  Ch. 13 of Story of the World 
7.  Start Triop experiment for “Show What You Know Fair”
8.  Practice violin daily
9.  Go to violin class weekly
10.  Enjoy afield trip to the American History Museum
11.  Listen to books on tape in the car:  We just finished the entire “Little House” series and we finished “The Incredible Journey” this week.

What we actually did this past week:

– Math Practice
– Listen to SOTW3, Ch. 13
– Primary Language Lessons 24
– Mom read
– Read to little brother
– Practice Violin
– Tae Kwon Do
– 4-H – Settle Exploration in the woods
– Watch “Downton Abbey” 

– Explore frozen bubbles and ice (abnormally cold day)
– Work on Mayflower model
– Play Professor Noggin “North American Animals” and “Human
– Math practice
– Violin practice
– Read
– Watch “My Cat From Hell” episode

– Math Practice
– Mom read 
– Practice Violin
– Learn/review Division
– Build a special LEGO for the show what you know fair and realize researching and growing a triops is a better option.
– Mom had an appointment with the shutter contractor.
– Violin class
– Watch documentary on the filth of London during the plague and great fire on Discovery Education
– Watch “My Cat from Hell” episode

– Brother read to Cisco in Spanish
– Math practice
– Practice Violin
– Tae Kwon Do
– visited the America History Museum and ran into friends

– Practice Math
– Practice Violin
– Do Primary Language Lesson 25
– went swimming at the indoor pool
– started Triops experiment

I thought I would also note, every day generally includes Big Brother independently reading graphic novels (he comes home with a new pile each Sunday when we go to the library), and building LEGOs.